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Some random thoughts…

2 Jun

… about a painting from french artist Thomas Saliot.

Street Light

1. Contemporary figurative painting owes much to Photoshop filters. It’s kind of sad.

2. Shorts and micro skirts look much better if your thighs are thin enough to let the light shine through.

3. Don’t do T-shirts. If you do anyway, mind the bag: it should blend with the rest of the rags.

4. Booties still look good at the warm end of spring.

I’m into cute right now…

25 Mar

… and I’ve got a strange idea about the way it relates to classical aesthetics.

Work by Jun Kumaori

Stay tuned!

Color Theory…

21 Mar

… is quite a fascinating subject and should be on the curriculum of any wannabe fashionista. As you may know, Goethe is something like the father of the field where optics meets aesthetics, both as a theory of perception and as a theory of fine arts. Here are two interesting passages from the sixth part of his Zur Farbenlehre:

§ 841: People of refinement have a disinclination to colors. This may be owing partly to weakness of sight, partly to the unceertainty of taste, which readily takes refuge in absolute negation. Women now appear almost universally in white and men in black.

§ 845: The scale of positive color is obviously soon exhausted ; on the other hand, the neutral, subdued, so-called fashionable colors present infinitely varying degrees and shades, most of which are not unpleasing.

Musing on the internet, I found Manolo’s excellent friend’s excellent friends’ excellent friends are doing a bit of very very good fashion oriented popular color theory. You must check that.

Colorwheel from

Up to now, there’s four parts to the course:

  1. The wheel and the two thirds
  2. The neutrals
  3. Triads
  4. Applied investigation

“I paint a head like a door…

25 Feb

… like whatever else”. That’s Cézanne. And that’s Giacometti about why Cézanne has had such a deep effect on painting in the 20th century.

Seeing for real. Cézanne's Pastoral (Idyll). 1870.

And that’s not by chance that this manifesto for a visual acuity beyond the banality of a carnal veil makes immediate sense for Giacometti. He too is looking for the ontological bone.

Giacometti. Tête Noire (1960)

Or Bacon, or Matisse, or so many others. A part, that may not be small, of the divorce between common perception and visual art is born in Cézanne’s decision to look at your face like at a stone. Physics divorced from common sense with Galileo, and it’s been very long since anyone has raised an objection.

Look at a shirt like it’s a piece of cloth. Dress like you’re a Cézanne.

Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons (1983)

I don’t know what’s the matter with me tonight. Must be this German atmosphere I’m in these days (writing this from Tübingen), I’m getting another fit of modernist elitism…



What beauty is not…

23 Feb

… is what I want to examine here, in a sort of counterpoint to our superstar’s interrogations concerning the new Burberry girl.

DISCLAIMER: Don’t get me wrong on one thing, I hold Manolo in my highest esteem, he’s thoughtful and delicate, and the views I argue against here are merely a suggested hyperbolic direction of some of his remarks, certainly not something I think he would claim. With some luck, he will give us is own point of view himself.

That being said, the following post is mainly a response to Manolo‘s assertion that:

(t)he rules of feminine beauty cannot be changed, no matter how much we may wish that they could be. They are as immutable and as fixed as the stars in the heavens: youth, fecundity, symmetry, and the pleasing hip-to-waist ratio.

Oh boy, I beg to differ.

On the last point, this hip to waist ratio (h/w), here’s my take (I reproduce it from a comment I left on Manolo’s post). Bottom line: careful with those figures!

I fear there maybe a little too much enthusiasm here over the signifiance of this ratio. Most of the usual ratios of the human face, for instance, are really stable, but we are extremely sensitive to small changes in them, so we feel our faces are vastly different.

A good example of a similar phenomenon is provided by your discussion with the delightfully articulated Caia. No one on our catwalks displays the kind of h/w ratio expected from the corseted ladies (and it’s absolutely NOT a matter of same ratio against different values): moderns expect a higher ratio. The numerical difference is small, but means everything in the world (look at Dita @Gaultier’s).
And, as everyone knows and is noted in the wikipedia entry you linked, even greater differences in responses to h/w ratio are found when one goes cross-cultural.

h/w. Yeah, right.

I find it important to remind everyone to exert caution when using figures in a conceptual debate. Proper handling is generally extremely delicate, and not even all scientists do it the way it should be done. To be a geek or to have one handy may prove very valuable.

Anyway, that’s not the point.

The point is Kant. Or at least a small fraction of his thought. Let me insist upon the Kantian distinction between the beautiful and the agreeable. Both are objects of an aesthetic judgment, i.e. a judgment that bears on perceptual data (or more precisely on our representations thereof). The latter has two principal characteristics: (a) it reflects the interests of the subject (in a broad sense); (b) therefore, since our interests may vary, there’s no reason to think that my judgment of what is agreeable is of any value for someone else. The former is a complicated story, and I’m not sure at all that I want to follow Kant’s own definition. But one can retain as a contentious but extremely important possibility that the beautiful should in principle be independent of our interests, and as such a matter of expertise or education in some form, and our judgments concerning beauty may therefore pretend to an universal value (being not dependent upon contingent historical determination of the subject. Oops. Never mind, I just had a fit.)

The criteria proposed by Manolo may seem of universal value, and he takes them to be, but I disagree. In so far as they are a reflection of our biological needs, they are bound to vary with them. You’ll find regularities but abstract ones: it’s not the same thing to look healthy in a big modern city (tall semi-anorexic veg with a tan) and to look healthy north of the Arctic Circle (small chubby with a taste for whale fat). And in any case, these criteria will just get you a definition of desirability. And you will excuse the slight feminism of the remark, but we would prefer not to judge matters of beauty with our dicks (or absence thereof) here. I’ll post later about Winnsome great remark that there may be something akin to pain in the experience of beauty, but it is a very welcome reminder that there is more about beauty that the merry boner. I’m not even sure it has anything to do with boners in the first place. This is the whole concept of this post.

Beautiful. Hot? You tell me.

Take an example. With the girls back in our first college days, we were all fascinated by Beckett’s face. Did we find him beautiful because we found him desirable? Maybe, but certainly not in a straightforward, biologically meaningful way. Now I’d like to dismiss with a disdainful hand-wave the objection of the acquired taste.

(I’ve always wanted to dismiss something with a disdainful hand-wave. Did you notice that you don’t get very often to do that in real life if you’re not Anna Wintour?)

Who said beauty is a natural/innate taste? Certainly not Van Gogh. Nor John Cage. Nor Beethoven. Neither did Levy-Strauss or any serious anthropologist. So yeah. You get to see beauty because of the education you received, and human body gets no special rule. You need education to get to see any beauty in the world, even to see that the taste of a 1998 Saint-Emilion is more interesting than the taste of a Diet Coke. After a couple of LPs and some musical sophistication, you begin to discern what’s the matter with this face:

Grand Wazoo

A strong but subtle mix of derision, arrogance and intelligence. And lots of hair.

(That’s Frank Zappa, btw).

There is, in my view, just one correct cognitive path to judge of the beauty of something, be that thing a concerto, a still life or a human being. It may involve a set of possibly universal standards if you wish, but they certainly require some historical and maybe personal interpretation. The specific forms in which beauty may be recognized are not the same now than they were a century ago (and after Schoenberg, we do not hear in Beethoven what his fellows heard then). But as I advertised in the title, I’m not concerned with a definition of beauty, I just want to distinguish it from desirability, which may be good, but is fundamentally different.

And there I get to the great idea of the rising star in vagina-looking clothes: the Man-Repeller herself. The brilliance of this idea, to look at fashion from a man repelling point of view, come precisely from the way it relates both to the philosophical concerns above and some well documented empirical data: that there is a whole class of outfits that will get the girls all like ‘aaah’ and ‘oooh’, and all the gents like WTF?!

Man says: nightmarish stepmom. Girl says: trendy. (Source: MR)

Many factors may come into play in this, but it’s quite clear for me that a great deal of the wtf-reactions to sartorial creativity is a consequence of the fact that (a) sometimes this creativity is not dedicated to enhance the desirability of the wearer and (b) lots of people have a really hard time to understand how one may do something complicated fashion-wise without trying to cause arousal.

Mary Katrantzou says: f*ck h/w.

Fashion is art is also a way to say: fashion is not reducible to an elaborate mating parade. You may use it that way, or everybody uses it that way (I certainly do), but it doesn’t mean it’s what it is ultimately.


(a) No, I don’t think that the laws of feminine beauty are any more eternally written in the stars that the laws of musical beauty. Even if they were, we cannot read them, and experimentation is what we need to get to know them by empirical progress.

Gathering interesting data. Ann-Sofie Back says: f*ck h/w.

(b) Maybe as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but certainly not in his pants.

Two lessons from Ingres…

17 Feb

… should suffice to secure some fairly stable truths about fashion.

LBD, circa 1823

The Little Black Dress is indispensably hot since 200 years. That commands respect. If you have an impossibly long neck, you should wear something that makes it appear even longer. Match details: ribbons on the wrist and in the hair. Black on black is good. Treat your arms as if they were legs: they should be as sexy.

Mixed messages

If you look desperately young and pure, you may (actually you should) wear masculine leather arm-long mitts. They’ll spice up your virginity in a way no slutty trick seen on MTV ever will. Do your make up in a way that suggests sexual arousal, but keep it demure at the same time. If you carefully follow the instructions, nobody will know what’s the matter with you and you will totally rule.

Pictures are borrowed from the Artchive.

Oh, my beloved readers…

15 Feb

… all the twelve of you (which is good since almost half of you are not in my family) grasp firmly your silky pants, for we are in for yet another encephalitis-inducing theoretical post. Here we go.

(I just give you a little pic from Marc Jacobs AW11 because (a) what comes after is long and painful, and (b) polka dots!!)

Dots dots dots!

So, iconicity again.

First let us get out of the way what is consensual. You’ll never catch me saying that random layering (or any equivalent but more suave formulation) is the only way to iconicity. Not even ridiculously drunk at a concert of the Scissor Sisters. A well chosen unheimliche twist in classical elegance also does the trick (but it’s not easy).

Let us turn now to this interesting theory of yours. It relies on a principle I should call OD for outrageous defense:

(OD)       Outrageous sartorial choices are (often) a defense mechanism for the beauty impaired.

I see why that would be a pet theory. It is obviously couterintuitive, hence, it has a good added value. Indeed, would ask the not-so-deep fashion theorist, why someone already at risk of being exposed to derision would worsen her/his situation by drawing attention to shocking clothes? Here’s the explanation the wise Manolo provides us. Instead of enduring a subpar status with respect to accepted standards, the beauty impaired would defend him/herself by rejecting beauty as a criterion and claiming that personality/originality is what matters. A clever move in our ferociously individualistic societies. Barbie will have a hard time openly claiming that conformity is the way to go (but she’ll manage something, usually based on concepts such as weird, or belonging, or taste and morality, or nature, or whatever other half baked normative structure). Then the proponent of staying true to one’s original personality will be freedom’s champion, and Barbie will be the fascist. This is the moral of at least 25% of Hollywood’s total output. I know, darling reader, I’m conservative here.

So far so good. Outrage or outré may be protection systems. But please let us not forget that’s a very thin piece of the cake. What’s protection, most of the time? Let Mama Wharton show you how it’s done.

Serious protection is a four layered job. First layer: fur. I mean, our fur: prairies and bushes of our god-given body hair. Second layer: comfy outwear. A vast tee-shirt, some nice bermudas with all the practical pockets, tennis socks and crocs. A parka when needed. Now you top that with a thick third layer of ill understood Platonism/Feminism, to the effect that (from the former) apparencies are not what counts and that (from the latter) any trade of practicality for aesthetics counts as an active collaboration with the global phallocratic conspiracy. Last layer: friends. Lots of them, sharing the ideas and the strategy. In Paris or Milano, it won’t be easy. In Frankfurt or Lafayette, it shouldn’t be much trouble. And here, within your four-layered bunker, you will really be protected. Assuming you’re not too much into mass media, you may live a life almost free from fashion aggressions. Actually, having inversed all values, you will have opportunities for sneering at shallow self-sacrificial bimbos on heels. And be concerned for their health.

Why would someone throw herself on the battlefields of unconventional fashion when bunkering is so much easier, I really don’t know. I guess it’s something akin to the mysteries of sexual orientation. For being fat or ugly and into fashion is being a queer. Once (and only once) you’re a queer, counter-attack is a very good strategy, and, as Manolo rightly suggests, it will provide shelter.

But if it’s clever, it is first of all a bold strategy, and that combination deserves praise in my book. And going for personality is the fundamental component of iconicity as I understand it.

But now I’ll need to qualify that. There’s at least two ways of understanding how to express your personality. One uninteresting way to do so is to chose a counterculture. So, you’re different because you’re emo, or goth, or whatever. Like all your friends. This is just a variant of the bunker, so let’s dismiss it as irrelevant. So, again: how would you express a personality (through fashion)?

I’ll borrow from Deleuze some notion here. If you are still reading this, you probably won’t mind an extra helping of complications. The usual concept for personality in its common acceptation is subjectivity. Personality defines us as subjects. Deleuze twists the notion: subjectivity should not be understood as a property of a being. It’s a process, which he calls subjectivation. Your are not a subject, but you can sometimes be caught in a subjectivation process. Why is that? Because what makes you a subject, singular by definition, is what makes the structures you function in leak. But the structure is always resorbing the leaks. Every liberation is followed by a (necessary) restoration of order, where the singular is assigned a new place in the structure, and therefore ceases to be singular and unclassifiable. It’s a good and satisfying life when you function well. But while you will have character, you won’t have a personality, i.e. be a subject in the full sense.

So being a subject, or having a personality if you want, is a full time, never finished, job. It’s hard work. Here is a truly wonderful description of what a subjectivation process may be like, by composer Morton Feldman.

What was great about the fifties is that for one brief moment — maybe, say, six weeks, nobody understood art. That’s why it all happened.

What I get from all this is that there is wisdom indeed in Waters advice:

Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents – that is the key to fashion leadership.

I see true personality in the way someone struggles to break consensus in order to be him/herself. It is exceedingly rare, and when that happens in fashion, we get an icon in the way I understand the term.

Let’s take a random example. In Paris’ early 1880, Madame Gautreau was a fashion star: she was extremely beautiful and she was a trendsetter. On another hand, as one of her friends would have it, she had the “strange, weird, fantastic, curious beauty of” a “peacock-woman”. We are already in iconicity’s sweet spot. But what made her a true icon, in a way such that Manolo chose her as an example of non-layering icon, is that she sat for Sargent, and this is the result:

Deadly Sin: Lust

Of course, there are very few layers involved here. Much too few, actually, at least for the taste of the 80s. The portrait caused a riot in 1884’s Salon, and wrought havoc on Sargent and Gautreau. At a time when pornography wasn’t a billion dollars’ business, the portrait counted as sheer outrage. This is what happens with subjectivation processes. Usually, there’s a price. A high price.

Now that most of you are probably gone, sleeping, or bored to death, I’ll just add few pointer to the remaining battlefields:

1) Is conflicting or complex layering random? Method in madness

2) What rules are we changing? Switching from beauty to personality vs. challenging the definition of beauty?

3) In any case, does it matter? I claim that beauty is not a necessary nor a sufficient component for iconicity.

Ooooh nooooo… Paracetamol, anyone?